"I hope so!" I quipped back, but maybe there was a bad line because she didn't seem to find it as funny as I did. To be fair to her though, dining at Ramsays Royal Hospital Road probably isn't something to be blasé about, as we had been trying to get a reservation at this particular restaurant, on and off, for about 3 years. So you can imagine that, during this time, its status as the pinnacle (or at least one of the pinnacles) of international haute cuisine had been built up in my mind to the extent that if we had arrived to the sound of angels trumpeting and rose petals being strewn in front of us as we got out of the taxi, we probably just would have assumed that this is part of what people had been making such a fuss about over all these years.
The place does make quite an impression as you arrive though - lots of mirrors and glass, lots of staff, and an atmosphere of a kind of hushed awe, almost as if all the other diners couldn't quite believe they'd managed to get a reservation either. It's all quite overwhelming at first, not least because each member of staff seemed to take turns serving everyone - a different person greeted us at the door, said hello inside, took our coats, led us to the table, served an aperitif, gave us menus and took our wine and food orders. That's about 8 or 9 different people to say hello to within 10 minutes of arriving. Perhaps they each just didn't want to be typecast as 'the coat guy' or 'the menu guy', but the effect was quite disconcerting.
Well then, the food. Canapés (sorry about the dark photo, I hadn't quite plucked up the courage to use the flash at this point) were a fois gras and truffle mousse, and a taramasalata with poppy seed crackers and potato crisps. Pretty but nothing extraordinary, which maybe is the point of canapes.
Once we arrived at the table however, things got a lot more interesting. Amuse-bouches consisted of a 'Cornetto' of somethingorother (yes I know I should have taken notes, or at least made an effort to remember, but this is my first blog so be kind), which was lovely, and little cheesey balls covered in breadcrumbs on a green pesto. These were, well, as you would expect - they tasted like cheese and breadcrumbs on pesto, but I don't suppose there's anything wrong with that.
After that, another pre-starter the waiter took great pleasure in describing as a Full English Breakfast. This was quite clever - a bit of lovely spicy sausage meat on a spoon, which after you'd eaten the meat you could use to attack the egg, which was a kind of bacon mousse (I think) on top of lovely creamy scrambled eggs, on top of (a fantastic little surprise) Ramsay's own version of Heinz beans at the bottom of the eggshell. Then that big "bacon" thing which looked impressive but actually just tasted like hard baked bacon rind. You have to admire their ingenuity though.
Finally, the proper starter arrived. This was English snails with vegetables and basil leaves surrounded by celeriac puree and jerusalem artichoke sauce. I've had snails before in various places in Spain and France, usually more out of a sense of "when in Rome" or bravado than actually wanting to eat the things, but these were gorgeous. Earthy and sweet, with a good firm texture and a distinctive taste, and the artichoke sauce worked perfectly. Interesting to note, however, that although this dish was listed unapologetically as "English Snails" on the menu, they still felt the need to describe another dish as "Pied de Cochon". Perhaps the pork wasn't British (I hope not), or perhaps the full horror of Pigs Trotters is too much for delicate British diners just yet (more likely).
Now I have to admit - I always get pigeon when I see it on the menu. I've had it done a few different ways - whole, French rustic style at the Anchor & Hope in Waterloo, or a more fancy interpretation at the Square in Mayfair, and I've never been disappointed. So when I saw it listed at Ramsays (wrapped in fois gras and parma ham) I thought "I always get pigeon, I always like it, but I always get it. I should try something different this time" and found myself ordering the John Dory. A friend got pigeon. When the mains arrived, lovely though the John Dory was (though perhaps a tad on the dry side), all I could do was stare with miserable envy at my dining companion's pigeon. The fish was good though, served on what they called sun-dried tomatoes but actually tasted just like very tasty fresh tomatoes, and cornish crab. With it were two little tortellinis of (I think) caviar, which had the most incredible flavour, and roast fennel. To my companion's credit, he let me taste a bit of his pigeon. It was perfect. I should have had the pigeon.
Pre-dessert a cocktail glass full of some sort of palette cleanser arrived. It was nice - I think - but clearly nothing memorable as I have completely forgotten what was in it. All I remember is that it smelt slightly offputtingly of cottage cheese.
Dessert was apple and champagne sorbet with a very creamy ice-cream and bitter chocolate base. Very tasty - particularly the ice cream which was some of the best I've ever had, almost buttery-rich. Not much else to say about this... sorry I'm sure it's a supreme example of its kind but I've never been much of a pudding person. My companion's Tarte Tatin was incredible though, caramely and decadent with a perfect pastry.
Things ended quite theatrically. A selection of chocolate truffles with a pearly coating (I've had these before at Ramsays Claridges) arrived impaled on a little silver 'tree' and looked very pretty indeed.
Some strawberry ice cream balls covered in white chocolate tasted great, and came in a jar bathed in dry ice spilling over the edges of the container like a special effect from a cheap horror B-movie. And finally turkish delight, which was disconcertingly fluffy, almost to the extent that you couldn't feel it in your fingers, but tasted good.
The damage? £155 each, which obviously is a lot by the standards of your average restaurant but seemed more than reasonable for the effort that had gone into the food. This amount included a fair selection of champagne, wines and dessert wine and we didn't feel like we'd held back on this front, so it all seemed quite fair. It’s also worth pointing out that even though we’d ordered the cheaper(!) £85 a la carte menu rather than the £110 Menu Prestige, if you add up all the amuse-bouches and canapés it comes to about 8 courses. As an extra little treat, we were invited by a very friendly waiter called Bernard to have a quick peek at the kitchen, where GR's executive chef Mark Askew held fort. The kitchen was a lot smaller than I'd expected and there hardly seemed any room for the hundreds of chefs packed in there, but it was fascinating to see them all beavering away. Look out for the Full English Breakfasts being prepared:
And there we have it. Much of the food was cooking of the very highest order, but is it enough to tempt me back in a city that includes so many other great restaurants? And was it really worth a 3-year wait? If nothing else, it's an albatross off my back and at least I can say I finally made it, I finally ate there. But I'm not going to start queuing up again just yet. Meantime, there's an interesting new Steakhouse just opened at the end of my road that needs investigating....